Men I Have Painted/Judge Alexander Simpson
AS I grow older the advantages of having been born an American of British and French blood become daily more and more ideal. I now know that I have escaped the insulating influences and the national prejudices of all three countries, and have retained only their qualities—chiefly good. I have been poised, as it were, high over the Atlantic Ocean, from which exalted vantage point my eye could encompass, in its wide sweep, Penn's tower in Philadelphia, Wren's cathedral in London, and the church of Notre-Dame in Paris.
My father's liberal spirit provided against the possibility of any such Americanism as conceives Virginia to be a Garden of Eden and George and Martha Washington a sort of political Adam and Eve. Although, in some ways, I owe England so much, I cherish fondly a kind of super-liberty of thought which I could have derived from no other soil than that of America. America, populous and powerful as she has suddenly become, still retains the instincts and the virtues of a small and primitive society. In the beginning of her history three forces for good operated as incentives to right thought and action—Puritanism, Quakerism, and Republicanism.
By the latter word neither a form of government nor a political party is meant, but simply the public good, morally, socially, and politically.
The influence of Puritans and Friends was not so general as the restraining virtue of the idea contained in pro bono publico that permeated the Thirteen Original Colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and swayed the states as they entered the union. The best men said to themselves, "To deserve a pure government we must keep society pure." And what did that entail? Two things, one of which has unfortunately fallen into disuse—obedience to law, human and divine, and the swift execution of justice upon evildoers. In this atmosphere of stern realities, men of the temper of Judge Alexander Simpson and my father were born.
Like the curate who was considered, by the toddy-drinking, "churchwarden"-smoking old Scotsman, of no use to man or beast because he did not drink, smoke, or eat hay, men of the type of the Judge and my father, who refused the Masonic grip, rejected the flowing bowl, and eschewed Dame Nicotine in any shape or form, are of little use in clubs or at artists' banquets, but when some real service to the community is to be performed, either by example or precept, they can be depended upon with all confidence to do their duty. The likeness between the two natures extends almost indefinitely. At the back of their minds they believe in a Christian Church universal, they love England and her institutions, they are loyal to the Constitution of the United States, and read it in all its simplicity of statement; they hold visionaries and demagogues in detestation, their knowledge of psychology does not go beyond Saint Paul's or Shakespeare's, their sentiment is a pure substantive and their goodness is not a pious pose.
Judge Simpson is a leader of these men of substance, whose feet are firmly planted upon the inviolable principles of human nature, guided by God's Word. His chief characteristic is decision, based upon a comprehensive knowledge of truth. His faith is unlimited. Writing of the "back-washes" of the recent conflict in Europe, he says "I cannot, however, get up even a measure of alarm over it, so far as England is concerned; her people are so staid and sensible; their instincts are so just and right; their traditions and their modern performances are so inspiring, that I look to see a gradual adjustment through a number of years, perhaps fewer than now seem possible, and then a settling down to the handling of her imperial problems as only English-thinking people can handle them."
Unlike another great American jurist, who possessed one similar taste, Judge Simpson is very human. In the gratification of his taste for Art he considers both his compatriots and his contemporaries; he collects modern pictures by Americans. To collect a few fine examples of ancient painting for the decoration of houses, like Mr. Frick's, in New York, or Mr. Widener's, in Philadelphia, is no doubt justifiable on grounds more or less personal; but to gather together a mass of canvases of considerable æsthetic value and pack them away out of sight denotes a mind of inferior sensibility. It may meet the approbation of a few American artists, both sculptors and painters, if it be urged that it is the office of museums to collect old Art, and a duty incumbent upon individuals to patronize living artists. That we owe the existence of the great masterpieces of ancient Art to contemporary patronage is merely to state the obvious.
It is to the deep and steady undercurrent of thought flowing from the minds of men like Judge Simpson that America owes her position to-day as a power for good.